Fandom in the Social Media Age – Conclusions, Part One

When I took over the management of the social media for ‘The 100′ Writers’ Room, I honestly didn’t know what my approach would be. I had observed dozens of other writers’ room accounts, all with different styles of interaction. I looked back at what had been done with the account thus far and found that while some of the tweets were absolutely things I would do, I felt we could do more.

After the many months of running the social media for the writers’ room and looking at the data, I have come to some conclusions. Let me remind you that these are MY observations, and are by no means comprehensive or even valid for others. I base my conclusions from my own experiences, and another person doing the exact same job as I did may have very different conclusions to draw. Still, I hope that within these conclusions there are perhaps common themes which provide clarity on how TV shows should manage their social media footprint going forward.

Every show has its own style and its own objectives with their writers’ room account. That led me to the first question — why do we have the account? Why do shows feel compelled to have a presence in this specific way?

The first and most basic argument is, “everyone else is there too.” And they’re right — in the last three years there has been a major increase in the number of TV show writers’ rooms with their own accounts on Twitter. I wish I could lay specific data against that, but it would be a challenge. I’ll shortcut to one prime example, the writers’ room account that has set the template for almost everyone else in one way or another, no matter their style or goals: “Pretty Little Liars.”

Numerous articles (The Hollywood Reporter, Forbes, USA Today) and even an episode of Sundance TV’s “The Writers Room” have detailed the strategies the team behind “Pretty Little Liars” have employed to become so successful in social media. They are consistently on the cutting edge of where their audience is, recently going on SnapChat to engage the fanbase in new ways. Whether they know it or not, most shows are following the PLL model — live tweet with cast and writers, Hashtag trending topics, Instagram, Facebook and lots and lots of devotion to engaging with the fanbase. The result: great ratings. It’s genius and pretty obvious — find ways to motivate people to watch the show live while it’s airing. They made it feel like a giant party that fans did not want to miss each week. They are part of a larger whole, which includes the creative team behind the show! Since the Nielsens as a standard of TV viewing aren’t going anywhere just yet, finding a way to maximize the impact for advertisers is important.

If the account is intended as a one-way dialog, a way to just disseminate information, that could be done with a blog with the comments closed. But the nature of social media is in its name — social. It didn’t feel right to just serve as a way to tweet out factual information — when the show is on, who wrote the episode, retweets of reviews… those things are good and necessary components, but why don’t more accounts actually interact with the fanbase?

The most interaction you usually see from writers’ room accounts happens around live-tweets, either for one or both coastal airings of the show in question. Often the account serves as a way for the creator or the writer of the episode to provide running commentary while the episode airs. Sometimes they’ll retweet others, particularly actors or other creatives who work on the show, but usually those are held to a minimum.

The vibe of a writers’ room account very often takes a cue from its audience. A show like “NCIS” with an older fanbase isn’t as likely to engage on Twitter with the creators of the show (though, it’s good to point out that ‘NCIS: New Orleans’ has certainly done more with their account than the other franchise shows had done in the past). Some shows love to post photos. Other shows tweet out script snippets or teasers. Others engage at the level of soliciting and retweeting fanart. All of these felt like completely valid ways to interact with a fanbase for our show, but it still didn’t feel like enough.

The audience for “The 100” is primarily a young, female audience. As I researched shows with similar fanbases, I started to find some interesting similarities…

  • Trending topics. Shows like “Pretty Little Liars” and “Teen Wolf” were very strong in this arena. I took a lot of cues from what these two shows and a few other CW shows were doing with their accounts as evidence of something that was already working. Specifically, I found that shows that were able to rally their fans to hashtags and trending topics and were able to capitalize on it.
  • Fan Art. This was a key ingredient of accounts for shows with similar fanbases to “The 100.” Sharing fan art tweeted to the account was something most of these rooms did, particularly “Once Upon a Time” (through co-creator/co-showrunner Adam Horowitz) and “Arrow.”
  • Q&As. Planned or impromptu Q&As were a great way to solicit interaction with the fans, and often was a great way to accomplish multiple goals, which I will expand on later.

I also wanted to have a home base for info that I was sharing through the account. One fan, who I will refer to as “Fan Zero” was heavily influential in convincing me to put “The 100” Writers’ Room on Tumblr. As I’ve said before, this was a little bit of unexplored territory — other than official accounts for all the CW shows and some NBC shows, I couldn’t locate a single writers’ room that established a presence on the platform. We’d be the pioneers, and I would be the one to determine if Tumblr was a viable conduit to the fans.

“Fan Zero” was the only fan account I could find that was followed by the Writers’ Room Twitter account when I took it over. Of course, I wondered if it was in error, and I soon discovered there was a reason we were following her. She was an early adopter to the show in the first season, there from the start and fiercely committed to what the show was trying to achieve, particularly in the portrayal of our female characters. She’s thoughtful and respectful in ways that differentiated her from the other fans I saw talking about our show in the early days of my dive into the fanbase. It wasn’t long before I struck up a dialog with her about the best ways to provide outreach to fans, and she had no shortage of opinions.

She gave me one opinion I really sparked to — that Tumblr was critical. I’d had my own Tumblr account for a few years, but hadn’t really utilized it, as I’ve always had this blog and only really saw Tumblr as another distribution method for my blog posts (with an occasional reblog of some of my friends’ posts and liking them), so at first I was skeptical that this was really the right social media platform for the writers’ room. But I wanted to have a clearinghouse, a searchable place for people to find answers to past questions and any other tidbits we posted. For that, it felt ideal and because the setup and user interface were so easy and intuitive, it was a no brainer. The worst case scenario: I’d use it for a few weeks, no one would find it, care or follow it and I’d abandon it and go back to twitter. At that point I wasn’t aware of the demographics or any of the user statistics for Tumblr, so I didn’t realize I had jumped right into the heart of where our fanbase was living…

Tumblr is not for every writers’ room. I’m saying that now, because the last thing I think a show should do is think they can reach their audience through Tumblr the way I did for “The 100.” The shows that are massively represented on Tumblr with fans are “Doctor Who,” “Sherlock,” “Supernatural,” “Pretty Little Liars,” The Vampire Diaries” and “Once Upon a Time,” among a few others. Our show seemed to fit the profile — international cast (with players from UK, Australia, US, Canada, etc), a young target audience, and very pretty people.

The outlier to this was NBC’s “Hannibal” which mystified me, but once I understood why it was successful, I understood the key to Tumblr. (And I’ll get to that in a few paragraphs.)

Tumblr is about two things for fans (and let’s be honest, mostly fangirls): ships and progressive social change.

If your show has a lot of potential for relationships in various combinations, it’s probably well represented on Tumblr. One of the things I realized our show was not capitalizing on was the popular “shippers” choices — and the number one ship was far and away Bellarke — Bellamy and Clarke, the yin and yang of the show.

Something had really captivated them in the first season with those two characters, and the popularity began to explode as people shipped them together and started creating gifsets of the subtlest looks and movements between them to bolster their argument that they were THE OTP of the show (fangirlspeak: OTP = “One True Pairing”). The showrunner was adamant that he was not gearing the show to that relationship; it was well known by the writers of season one who carried over to season 2 that the ship was gaining popularity, but given the edict of Jason Rothenberg, the showrunner that the show was about survival over romantic pairings, those fans who were becoming obsessed with the duo were going to be left out in the cold. My realization: ships will keep your show afloat, but they can also sink it if the shipping wars get overheated.

The other major interest of Tumblr users is progressive social change. They are all about seeing lots of representation in the media for various groups which have been and continue to be under-served — POC, WOC, LGBT (persons of color, women of color, lesbian/gay/bi-sexual/transgendered). These are girls who are personally offended if the show even tips a hand at misogyny or racial bias in any way. This was in many instances the one Achilles Heel I had in dealing with the fanbase, and this is the tip of the iceberg of a much larger discussion, so I’m tabling this for later as well.

So, back to “Hannibal” — why was it the outlier? Why was it so wildly successful on Tumblr when it has an older demographic? It had to do with the LGBT community. Bryan Fuller, the creator of “Hannibal” is himself an openly gay man, and he has had a distinctive style with all of his television shows. None of his shows have provided quite the homoerotic subtext and insinuation as “Hannibal.” That subtext was a huge driver — a majority of the “Hannibal” fandom revels in the fantastical pairing of Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham as lovers — something that is not at all true in the show, and yet is a staple of the fan art and fan fiction on Tumblr. The creator and writers don’t stifle this creative interpretation, and in fact seem to encourage it to some degree. The graphic nature of the crimes depicted in the show certainly also make for incredibly fan art and gifsets, but the spark of that fandom, its core is that relationship between Hannibal and Will — romantic or not. This squared with what I had learned about Tumblr — it is predominately progressive, inclusive to all gender, sexuality and color. While there are occasional divisions between fans within a fanbase, the “Hannibal” fans appear to be harmonious whether they enjoy the show as it is presented or for alternate interpretations.

If Tumblr is like stumbling into a book club that’s been going for 5 years for the very first time, Twitter is like zipping by the watercooler all day. Quippy one-liners and the occasional thoughtful discussion (segmented into 140 character chunks) co-exist in the Internet’s great message board. You put your thought into the ether and people respond or don’t. They favorite, or don’t. They retweet, or… you get the idea.

Tumblr was a great way to have a repository of longer posts and some of the photos I tweeted as well, but Twitter was valuable in other ways. Conducting “live” events is far simpler on Twitter. Live-tweets and Q&As generated a lot of “impressions” (which is internet-speak for how many people likely saw your tweet), more than when we would tweet out information about showtime, photos or links to Tumblr posts. Live-tweet with the episodes and Q&As, whether impromptu or scheduled provided a forum for fans to interact and engage in a more immediate way. They didn’t have to just like or reblog something on Tumblr, they could tweet back to us and interact with each other. Finding other fans of the show was as easy as searching our main hashtag (#the100), and very often fans would actively seek out people who were looking for new shows to watch on Netflix and recommend “The 100” to those people!

So why did I branch out to Instagram and Vine? This was part of the experimentation phase. Also part of my experimentation was creating an “in-world” tumblr and twitter presence for Mount Weather. In “The 100” it is established in the pilot that the kids sent to the ground are to make their way to Mount Weather, where the Ark survivors believe there will be food and supplies they can use to survive. Unfortunately, they landed 20 miles away and due to events of the 1st season… well, let’s just say their arrival at Mount Weather was surprising.

Inside they found a culture that had been there since the bombs fell, some 97 years earlier (and still far in our future — about 140ish years total). Since we spend time in Mount Weather, but we don’t really get a chance to experience life there, I thought it might be fun to create a fictional blog with announcements, memos, etc, as episodes air and coinciding with events in those episodes. Sadly, the best stuff never got posted (and in honesty, I never got far creating the future posts for after I was done working) — because most of the Mount Weather story happens in the back half of the season, after I finished working on the show. Had I thought through my plan further in the beginning, I’d have planned to queue up the posts on Tumblr and automate their posting with the show day and time. Automation in all things would have made my life easier, but I tend to be very old school — a shift stick in an automatic world — and I preferred managing things and posting live. I would call the in-world blog a failure, in part because we only got about 500-600 followers on Tumblr, and even fewer on Twitter.

The show wasn’t ready for transmedia, I guess.

As for Instagram and Vine, as I stated in my numbers post, I think there’s potential for each platform, provided you know what content you will posting there. While you can do a lot of content as it comes, posting on the fly, some things require forethought and planning. Impromptu photos and videos are great, and of course can feed to Twitter/Tumblr easily enough, but I was constantly challenged with what to post there.

I have no idea if there is any point in going on Pinterest. Given the more visual nature of the platform and the fact that we as writers’ are more literal, I think it’s a pass for us. Snapchat? Who the heck knows. It may be useful for transmedia endeavors, if you get into that, but I didn’t test the platform to really understand the uses or the audience.

In the next post, we’ll talk about fandom more broadly and how it is created and thrives in social media. Also, other less heady stuff. Maybe cats.

Posted under analysis

This post was written by Shawna on February 5, 2015

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Fandom in the Social Media Age – The Numbers, Part Two

In the last post I went through the numbers associated with The100Writers Tumblr account. This time we’ll take a look at Instagram and Vine (shorter discussions) and then Twitter, for which I have charts out the wazoo.

I created an Instagram account for The100Writers on 11/18/14. As of my last day on 1/23/15 there were 514 followers of the account. I fed photos from Instagram to the Tumblr account, which in turn posts to Twitter. Unfortunately, I never really had time to take photos to feed in, so I only used this account 7 times (for 7 photos). Still, in that time a photo of the memorial wall got 176 likes in December, when we had half as many followers. It’s hard to draw many conclusions, but given that the account was only running for two months, I believe we could have gone further with the usage of the account. The official CW_The100 account routinely gets over 2,000 likes per photo. Again, I struggled to find any other writers rooms on Instagram. Not saying they aren’t there, I just couldn’t find them.

Vine was also something I dove into fairly late in the season. I had this idea that we could have fans post Vine videos of their reactions to scenes or to explain why they love the show. I also saw that Law & Order: SVU ‘s Writers’ Room was on Vine, which gave me courage to give the platform a try. This led to some surprising findings…

As of my last day of work, we had nearly 2,000 followers on Vine. We posted exactly one video on 11/5/14, the day we opened the Vine account. That 15 second video played over 19,000 ‘loops’, got 160 likes and ‘revined’ 48 times. In comparison, SVUWritersRoom Vine videos ranged from 2,000 to 33,00 loops over 64 posts for a total of 321,416 loops — most of them landing around 3500-4000 loops each. That account has 1,983 followers, virtually the exact same number of followers The100Writers account has. Further, the SVUWritersRoom appears to have created their account sometime in August (although, it could be August 2013, given that there are “November” vines preceding ‘September’ vines. They may have had a dormant account created much earlier that got most of its use in 2014).

I think it is safe to say that the SVU demographic is far different than ours. It’s impossible to draw many conclusions, because we only posted one vine video, but given that we got 19k loops out of that one, it’s possible more videos = more loops = more followers.

One bit of perspective: The top vine accounts generate MILLIONS of loops per video. So, we weren’t exactly playing with the big boys here. Same with Instagram.

Now… onto TWITTER.

The100Writers Twitter Followers

The100Writers Twitter Followers

The black box indicates the date I took over running the account. 3,201 followers prior to that date — not bad for a show that premiered on March 19, exactly two months earlier. The account really takes off with followers right around October, as the show premiered for its second season on 10/22, and just kept climbing. As you can see here there were 30,433 followers as of 1/20/15. I just check the account for today (1/29) and it’s already at 33,256 — almost a pickup of 3,000 fans in 9 days. The account has been used for retweeting the main The 100 account and livetweeting the new episode, so its still in use, though significantly less since I left on 1/23. Still, the fact that the account is picking up nearly 3,000 followers a week indicates that the existing fanbase is finding the account to follow it and/or new fans are finding the show and then following the account. Given the anecdotal evidence I’ve seen, it is a lot of the latter.

If you have a twitter account, you might have fun with the free analytics tools provided by Twitter — The drawback is that the data set tends to be limited to the last 3 months, so I couldn’t get a full picture of the entire life of the account, but here are some stats I find fascinating:

Who are our followers?

Who are our followers?

There’s a lot to look at here, but the main areas that interested me were the locations of our fans and ‘unique interests’ — Clearly those who like drama and sci-fi follow the account. I wasn’t expecting to see that the Top Interests of our fans is… Music. It makes sense though. So many young people are plugged into the musicians who really use Twitter well — Taylor Swift among them, so it follows that would be a top interest for them.

The location data is even more fascinating. Clearly the US is a big chunk of our audience, but look at the UK! The UK is almost as large as the US — anecdotally I can say this is completely true. I got more requests from UK fans to livetweet their episodes than I ever expected. Unfortunately those mid-day tweets for the US fans were sometimes confusing, but the UK fans loved it. The show is a big hit in the UK, and one thing I don’t think writers rooms do particularly well is think globally. So many shows are sold to different countries, but we are so US-centric in our outreach that we forget those international fans who may be weeks or months behind. More than once I got “yelled at” to stop spoiling things for the UK — of course, I always gave spoiler warnings, but even innocuous tweets could contain spoilers for them! It certainly made me more mindful of our foreign fanbase. I will be talking about the international outreach efforts and trends in more detail later, but believe me, there’s a lot to talk about.

twitteranalytics1This is the chart I really wish I had more data for. This was the last 28 days of tweeting. Knowing how many overall impressions our account had over a much longer timeframe would be instructive, not least of which because the last 28 day time period included a 5-week long hiatus. You can see at the beginning of the chart how low the impressions numbers are — so few tweets were sent out and very little engagement. But as we came back from hiatus, the numbers spiked. That huge spike on January 6th correlates with the day we were back in the office and production had resumed on the final episode of the season. It is also the day that Season 2 premiered in the UK. The other large spike on the chart is when our Midseason premiere aired on January 22nd. I think it’s safe to infer that the impressions spiked in relation to those events.

analytics7The good news is I was able to pull a comparison chart from September, before the show premiered on 10/22. You can see the major difference in impressions while we were between seasons, in this month leading up to the return than in December, when the show was on hiatus and then returned.

I had some more charts regarding numbers of retweets, favorites and engagements we had, but honestly, I think this is enough data, save one more graph to get to the point.

I wanted to show a comparison of hashtag tweets for The 100 vs. Arrow and The Originals.  First, let’s look at how many followers each account has, both the “official” account and the writers’ room account for each show (as of 1/29/15):

Arrow CW Account                505, 800+ followers

The Arrow Writers’ Room      83,200+ f0llowers

The Originals CW Account     731,100+ followers

The Originals Writers’ Room  33,900+ followers

The 100 CW Account               68,900+ followers

The 100 Writers’ Room            33,200+ followers

As you can see, The100Writers has a much larger percentage of the official account’s followers than either Arrow or The Originals has.

Now, let’s look at the tweets with the “official” hashtag of each show…

Whole lot of tweetin' going on.

Whole lot of tweetin’ going on.

Surprisingly, The 100 had more tweets than The Originals in the same 30 day time period, though on show nights the tweets for the day of are virtually identical. Both pale in comparison to Arrow, which is our lead-in show.

Why did I choose The Originals and Arrow for comparisons? Let’s look at Nielsen ratings…

First, Arrow’s numbers. It’s in Season 3:

arrowratings

Arrow

 

Source: TVSeriesFinale.com

Next, The Originals, which is in Season 2:

The Originals

The Originals

Source: TVSeriesFinale.com

And finally, The 100 in Season 2:

The 100 Ratings

The 100 Ratings

Source: TVSeriesFinale.com

The Originals and The 100 have similar demo numbers, though The 100 tends to have a slightly larger audience number. Arrow is The 100’s lead-in, so it seemed right to use it for comparison as it almost consistently has 2x the audience of The 100.

What’s interesting is looking at the number of tweets generated for each show in comparison to its ratings and its followers on the official and writers’ room accounts. All three writers’ rooms did livetweets on the night their shows aired, and usually for both coasts. It’s staggering to see the vast number of followers the Arrow accounts have and yet the engagement in tweeting is about twice as much as The 100. You would think with the massive follower numbers, you’d see more tweets, but the number of tweets is consistent with the difference in ratings The Originals has a massive number of followers on the official CW account (which makes sense, because it is the spinoff for The Vampire Diaries which has over 1.2 million followers on its official account) but the engagement appears to be far lower, especially when you consider the percentage of Official account followers to the Writers’ Room account followers. If we assume that all followers of the writers’ room account also follow the official account, less than 5% follow both. In comparison, 48% of the Official The 100 account followers also follow the Writers’ Room account. And given the total number of followers for The Originals compared to The 100, for them to have virtually the same tweet rates on the hashtag that The 100 has indicates that the fanbase for The Originals is less engaged than The 100 fans.

One can even argue that The Originals should have more tweets than Arrow — I mean, just looking at the Official accounts, The Originals has 55% more followers than Arrow, yet it’s clear the engagement with the Writers’ Rooms is a completely different story — Arrow tops The Originals by 41% and The 100 by 40%.

So, what’s the conclusion? Well, those are yet to come. Stay tuned…

Posted under analysis

This post was written by Shawna on January 29, 2015

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